Spiritual Regimen, Rhythm or Intention

If you’re anything like me, you will know the feeling of setting yourself new resolutions and goals. After hearing a talk, reading a book or meditating on scripture we may feel prompted to act on the message we’ve received.

But how should we respond.

It may be tempting to respond by implementing a Spiritual discipline, such as prayer, fasting or solitude. We may want to commit to a 30 day plan of Bible reading, purity or a couple of months of attending Church whatever the weather.

This is all well and good. I love spiritual disciplines! But as many devoted Christians will have already discovered, after the 10th quiet time, our lives can quickly become full of new spiritual practices. And we soon struggle to maintain our new morning routine, exercise regimen, Thursday Fast, 1-on-1 weekly discipleship meeting, helping out at a local charity shop on the weekends, all the while serving our family with lovingly made dinners each night.

This is why the framework of Spiritual Regimens, Rhythms or Intentions is helpful!

Dr. John Coe, in his course on Spiritual Formation, recognises that as zealous Christians we may be tempted to overload our lives with activities and plans. But we must also remember that we are finite Christians as well (- and his finiteness, should draw us to God, just as much as our zealousness!) And so Dr. Coe suggests three categories of response (and they’re not complicated!):

  1. Spiritual Regimens – This could be a set time period (e.g. a week, month or year) whereby we will stick to a plan/regimen of particular conduct, in order to give God room to challenge and grow us in the area. For example: taking an online course, watching a series of lectures, starting a small group for a book, not buying anything online, etc.
  2. Spiritual Rhythms – This could be a particular discipline, such as Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting from cakes, Netflix or video games, silence, etc. We agree to incorporate such a discipline in our daily/weekly lives to strengthen the “muscles” of our faith.
  3. Spiritual Intentions: This is where we acknowledge, a calling from God to change our behaviour, grow our character, exhibit a virtue. But also acknowledge that there isn’t room in our finiteness, to incorporate yet another discipline towards this end. And so we offer up ourselves in prayer to God.
    • Present – “God, here I am, confronted by the challenge/example/conviction of x, y, z”
    • Recollect – “God, I understand that this is my current status because of everything you have done for me”
    • Honesty – “And yet, I am reluctant for whatever reason to change, thank You for revealing this to me.”
    • Discernment – “God, what are you doing, what is Your will, what is from You and what is not. Please give me wisdom on how to respond”.

It may be after praying in such a way, God will lead us to a regimen or a rhythm. Or it may be the case, that God simply wanted us to talk to Him about it and leave it in His hands. In Spiritual Intentions, we lean upon God’s power to transform us, and rely on His grace to work in our weakness. Yes, there will be times to actively co-labour with God, but there are also times to trust God’s Spirit at work – producing fruit – in us.

There is a real danger when we try and bring about the formation in our own strength, with countless lists of disciplines and plans. Rather, it is better to seek wisdom and ask God how we ought to respond to such truth.

And so next time you are challenged in a quiet time or talk, or even a walk in the park. Consider whether to turn this challenge into a Regimen, a Rhythm or an Intention.

Tuesday Tools – Evening Reading

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from John Maxwell about the rule of five. I written about it before (in fact it was one of the first posts on this blog).

In summary, the trick is to determine which five activities you can engage with every day in order to move closer towards a big goal. He uses the example of cutting a tree, if you hit it five times every day with an axe, eventually it will come down!

In a similar vein I’d like to promote another similar approach to tackling big goals. Reading before bed each night.

There are a lot of benefits to reading before bed: settles the mind, transitions out of the business of the day, no “white light”…etc.

But with 20 minutes or so of reading each day before bed, massive books can be read each year. This can be useful for large fiction series, for personal studying, or even the Bible in a year.

I’m currently working through the Wheel of Time series, (you can use my affiliate link if your interested in taking it up). For those who don’t know, it’s a book series made up of 13 or so books (each around 700/800 pages long). I’m sure I’ve recommended it loads before, I’m on book 3 at the moment. But it is an epic fantasy, like Lord of the Rings on steroids.

An excellent read, great bedtime reading!

Anyway, the habit of reading before bed is also one that’s recommended by John Piper. He did the maths and:

That’s 12 very substantial books [a year], all in 15 minutes a day for the average slow reader.

Tuesday Tools – Deep Work

Around January last year (according to my Goodreads account) I finished Cal Newport’s book: Deep Work. It’s a book that argues that we come up with the best ideas and most meaningful progress when we engage in focused, uninterrupted and undistracted work.

It claims that for “knowledge workers” deep work is becoming increasingly rare, with the deluge of immediate-response social media, attention-stealing technology and the demand to stay on top of e-mails and messages.

Since the ability to engage in deep work is rare, it is also becoming significantly valuable.

I jumped back into this audiobook during my exercise yesterday, to refresh my memory, and started with the beginning of Part 2.

In the chapter I listened to yesterday, he explained that we need to choose which “philosophy” fits our work best.

1. The Monastic Philosophy – this is where you take weeks and months apart from ordinary life to focus on deep work. He gave the example of an author going to a cabin in the woods for weeks to study. I think JK Rowling also did something similar when she wrote the last Harry Potter – checking into an expensive hotel for weeks until it was done!

2. The Bimodal Philosophy – this is where you take some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits of work. It could be Mondays and Tuesdays that you are “unreachable” and don’t answer the phone or e-mails. It could be using a week to focus on working deeply.

Suprisingly, most people will respect decisions to isolate for the sake of productivity at work, provided 1) the times of distance are well-advertised and well-defined and 2) you are available and able to complete other tasks the rest of the timme.

3. The Rhythmic Philosophy – This is where you set aside, say 90 minutes each day to pursue deep work. It is less about “getting away” and more about “setting apart” your time, consistently and habitually.

When it comes to implementing the Rhythmic Philosophy, you will find many of the tools for keeping up with other habits useful.

4. The Journalistic Philosophy – This is where you switch into deep work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Cal Newport warns that this is the most difficult, and few people can actually do this well. However, for some this is the only option available.

I personally have found options 2 & 3 useful. When it comes to writing the book I’m working on, I have taken a week off at a time work to write. Waking up early and finishing late, just focused on the single task of writing the book.

However for my 9-5 job with Cancer Research, I tend to use the Rhythmic Philosophy. Setting aside portions of my day when I turn Teams, Skype Chat, E-mails off and simply focus on work that pushes my cognitive abilities to their limit.

If you are interested in finding out more about deep work, (this post only really covers one chapter of the book!) and want to get the book please use my affiliate link below to support this blog:

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Thanks for reading!

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 4 An Ongoing Call to Worship

Truly, the Bible is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve done about 8-9 passes on these few verses and I keep getting to hear God’s voice! It’s just as well I’m not a time limit to finish this. I have a feeling a study like this is going to take a while.

It’s probably worth noting that I think going through the Bible at a fast pace is still important. Not only does it make it easier to appreciate each story in context, it also enables to see the Big Picture of God’s plan. That is why I’m still continuing my Bible Read Through approach with a friend. Saying all that, I can’t tell you how good it feels to soak this much in Scripture. It feels like a bath.

In this post I want to explore the Ongoing Call to Worship found in Genesis chapter 1-2:3. Because I’m a sermon writer, I can’t help myself, and have divided the post into three…

1) Creation still hums and buzzes with God’s word all these years later. It is amazing enough that when God spoke things happened, He said “let there be light” and there was! Boom! Cause for worship. But did you know that creation is still obeying His voice today – I know it’s obvious. But look at all the calls to reproduction we see in this passage. The plants are commanded to bring forth seed, fruit and more plants. The animals, fish and birds also. Whenever we see creatures, moving, living, growing, we have an opportunity to see the reverberation of God’s voice still at work today!

This means that when we go outside, listen to the birds singing, see the plants in all their vibrant beauty, right there, we can see God’s voice still working. Boom! Let us worship a God who’s voice echos these thousands, if not millions, of years later.

2) Every day the sun rises, every night the moon shines, we are given a rhythm to worship. Not only is the call to worship present in the ongoing obedience of creation to God’s ordinances. But we as human beings are given daily and weekly rhythms by which to worship. Every day the sun governs the light, every night the moon and stars rule the darkness, we can respond and worship in sync with that which is obediently, steadfastly proclaiming God’s power. Yes, His mercies are new every morning, praise Him, yes the sun rises every day, praise Him. Praise Him in the morning, and the evening.

3) We have been invited to enjoy His creation, especially on the Sabbath! The fact that God finishes what He starts, and rests, and enjoys His creation. Is a model for us, that we should do the same. May it be part of our weekly schedule, routine and rhythm, to pause on the Sabbath and appreciate all the work that God has done.

Creation calls us to worship it’s Creator. Look and see, hear and listen. It echos God’s power!

Tuesday Tools: Stretching

One of the tools I use to keep going in my daily habits, routines and disciplines is a concept I call: “Stretching”.

As most people who have tried implementing daily habits have noticed – consistency is a struggle. What starts out as a fun and rewarding activity (such as exercise, studying, writing, reading etc) can soon become an activity we resent, get bored of, forget to do, skip and ultimately quit doing. So how can we keep going? How can we keep engaging in these rewarding projects, routines and lifestyle decisions?

Habit is, after all, the means by which we can implement steady change and growth in our lives over time. They are encouraged in the Bible (see Psalm 1:2 habits of meditating on scripture, Luke 22:39 habits of prayer and Hebrews 10:25 habits of fellowship). They are also endorsed by most popular “self-help” authors (see The Power of Habit, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Atomic Habits)

So how do we fight against this “habit-fatigue”?

One solution is what I call “Stretching”. If we find ourselves doing the same activity over and over again we will undoubtedly get bored. So it is important to stretch ourselves in these areas. The following three ideas can help us stretch:

1) We can regularly set outselves higher goals. Often the reason we stop engaging in useful habits is because of a feeling of success, of having already “made it”. This is why it is argued that telling other people about our resolves isn’t always useful – it produces a feeling of success just by telling people what you intend to do. It’s a feeling that satisfies so much that we feel we have already “made it” and stop. When we reach the goal of being able to run 5K, we can give up. Instead we ought to stretch ourselves by setting new and harder goals, for example running 10K, running 5K in 30minutes, etc.

2) Some habits are implemented in order to achieve a specific target and so setting new goals is important. However, for other habits the goal is “infinite” and we will never get there. For example “closer relationship with God”, or “maintain healthy body”, in these cases our stretching may look different. We may instead need to stretch by switching it up. In exercise this is often called Muscle Confusion. Our muscles quickly get used to the routine we’ve set ourselves and so it is time for a switch – this is why workouts stop aching after a few weeks. We need to switch it up. For our prayer life, this may mean trying to write your prayers down in a journal, going for a prayer walk, inviting friends to pray with you or using pre-written prayers such as Lectio-365. By switching it up we can motivate ourselves to keep going in a specific direction, without necessarily having habits that have the same form.

3) A third way to stretch yourself in the habits you engage with is to teach it to others, or at least bring others alongside. Helping others to adopt the disciplines and habits of a live well-lived. This is often intimidating, especially if we don’t feel like an “expert”, but it is a crucial part of apprenticeship, discipleship and continuing in habits. It is why the last step in the Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 Step Program, is to carry the message to other alcoholics.

John Maxwell calls the concept of stretching: The Law of the Rubber Band. Just as a rubber band must be stretched in order to function properly, we too must continually seek to stretch ourselves in order to grow. Habits, naturally, are a great way to consolidate knowledge, skills and patterns in our lives. But our habits must not be static – seek to stretch your daily disciplines on a weekly/fortnightly basis in order to find the motivation to keep going.

The Power of Dependency

charity

And I was charity shop browsing yesterday with my wife who was looking for new work clothes. We’ve recently got into this, because we really enjoy playing board games with guests…but we don’t have many games. So one friend advised us that we shouldn’t buy games brand new, because their so expensive instead get them second hand. One thing lead to another and now my other half is exploring the novelty of cheap clothes.

Anyway, whilst she tries on a multitude of dresses, tops, trousers etc…I’m looking through the bookshelves seeing if there is anything that might be interesting (either Star Wars or theology/leadership)… I spot “the Power of Habit”.

Recently I’ve been complaining to myself about how un-disciplined and inconsistent my life seems to be. It’s not so much that I’m not exercising, or not waking up early, its that I’m really struggling to pin it down for longer than two weeks. I’ll go a few weeks reading my Bible at 5am and then stop, or go really intense in my exercising and then stop. It’s probably why “the power of habit” caught my eye.

Later that day, I’m in Starbucks reading a different book “how people grow”… and I get to a part that talks about where a husband had a control issue with his wife – always trying to control her happiness. And he learnt to yield it to God. It’s a bit confusing unless you read the details, but at some point the authors write:

Self control was the fruit of giving up the God role and regaining the human role of yielding

and:

In your work with people, you have to be a funeral director…[showing them that] all their efforts have not worked, and they need to die to trying…

So I’m left thinking how do I die to trying to be self-disciplined, and rather rely on God’s gift of grace to allow me to be Self Disciplined. I’m thinking that Self Discipline is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore not a result of self-effort (even if that’s confusing because of the name). Therefore I need to admit to God my inability to be truly self-disciplined, and ask Him to pour out His grace to me.

All of this to say that I’m learning my God does not drive us into action but draws us into following Him. 

 

Habits – Rule of Five

A few years back I listened to a talk from John Maxwell, a leadership-guy from America, who said that he had a rule of five. He explained that a rule of five consists of 5 activities you try to get done every day. He compares it to cutting down a tree: if you hit a tree with an axe five times a day, eventually it will fall down.

The rule of five says it’s better to do the right thing every day, then to do big things somedays….It’s about consistency.

Here is my rule of five, recently refined.

  • Study – Whether it’s Grudem’s systematic theology, an exam for uni, a book on leadership, or a combination.
  • Rise early – I try to get up early every morning. I understand that I am more productive and think clearer in the mornings, and I want to play to this advantage.
  • Quiet Time  – this may take the form of reading my bible, doing Bible Read through, prayer walking, journal-ing, worship…or again a combination. It is essential I am intentional about meeting with God on a daily basis.
  • Care of my body – I want to make sure that I am eating healthily and exercising regularly.
  • Discipleship – for the last few years the great commission (Matthew 28) has played a big part in my journey of faith. Everyday I try to meet with someone to build them up or have them build me up in my faith.

My prayer is that God will help me carry these out for the sake of His glory, not mine! That He would refine them where they lead to idolatry and would reveal and heal sinful motives within my heart.